Weight Loss: What Are You Overlooking?
Most of us are aware of the deleterious health effects of being overweight, yet many Canadians struggle with achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. Many people struggle with weight despite consuming an ostensibly “healthy” diet. Beyond a critical analysis of dietary intake and caloric expenditures, a few additional factors may be at play to make this goal more difficult.
The most basic information necessary for healthy weight loss is an awareness of how many calories should be consumed. Consumption of 3500 extra calories equals one pound of fat. In order to lose weight, the first rule is that the number of calories consumed has to be less than the total number of calories used. For an average adult man, consumption of 2000 calories per day will result in a weight loss of 1–2 lb per week; for an average adult woman, this is 1500 calories per day. The benefit of regular exercise is that it increases the number of calories used and prevents loss of lean body mass (muscle), thus accelerating weight loss. At least 30 minutes of aerobic activity (brisk walking, light jogging, etc.) per day is recommended for everyone trying to lose weight.
Carbohydrate Intolerance and Glycemic Index
Unfortunately, the [calories in − calories out] equation doesn’t always give the whole picture. Certain types of foods can make us more or less prone to storing excess calories as body fat. The glycemic index of a given food refers to how quickly it can “turn to sugar” and cause a spike in your blood sugar levels. Foods that result in large increases in blood sugar, such as refined carbohydrates, cause secretion of the hormone insulin. Insulin is a signaling hormone that tells your body to store excess blood sugar in muscles or in fat tissue, and it promotes weight gain. Sometimes, people with such spikes in insulin will also experience a rebound low blood sugar called reactive hypoglycemia. In this case, periods of hypoglycemia will result in low energy and new carbohydrate or sugar cravings, creating a vicious cycle. Choosing the correct foods (high in protein, fibre, and healthy fat, but low in refined carbohydrates) is essential in managing this type of carbohydrate intolerance.
Insulin resistance is a form of prediabetes. Individuals suffering from insulin resistance don’t respond properly to insulin anymore, and so the body starts pumping out even higher amounts of this hormone. In essence, if you think of insulin as the body talking to the cells, then in insulin resistance, the body starts yelling at the cells, trying to create a stronger signal. However, excess levels of insulin result in weight gain, as described above. Certain supplements, such as inositol, N-acetylcysteine, and chromium picolinate have been shown to help reduce insulin resistance.
Although many people have heard of hypothyroidism, fewer have been introduced to the concept of subclinical hypothyroidism. This may be thought of as “borderline” low thyroid function. Although bloodwork may indicate levels within the normal range, there is a recognition that the accepted normal range is quite broad, and so individuals at the high end of the normal range may already be experiencing early pathological symptoms. Since the thyroid and adrenal glands together function as the control switches of the body’s metabolism, a low-functioning thyroid may result in unexplained weight gain and difficulty losing weight. Other symptoms include fatigue, low mood, menstrual irregularity, cold body temperature, dry skin and hair, constipation, and low heart rate. Subclinical hypothyroidism is not something that one can self-diagnose, and it requires lab assessments; therefore, consultation with a licensed naturopathic doctor is required. If diagnosed, treatment may include use of dessicated thyroid, thyroid glandular, selenium, or specific herbs such as ashwagandha.
Finally, adrenal fatigue can be a contributing factor in difficulty losing weight. This is for a number of reasons. First of all, the hormone produced by the adrenal glands, cortisol, is in part responsible for maintaining a stable blood sugar level. Cortisol increases blood sugar; if cortisol output is inadequate, then many people begin to experience a tendency for hypoglycemia, which may result in carbohydrate cravings. Secondly, part of the stress response is that the body tries to “hang on” to its resources, including energy in the form of fat tissue. Chronic stress therefore is not conducive to healthy weight loss. It is important for those suffering from adrenal fatigue to evaluate their lifestyle for ways to reduce these chronic sources of stress. Then, ways to help recover adrenal function include supplementation with adaptogenic herbs, B vitamins, and adrenal glandulars.
- Health Canada. Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide · http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index-eng.php · Updated 2016-09-01.
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